Source: Appolinary Kalashnikova

For a more Sustainable Tomorrow – What Additive Manufacturing Brings to the Table

Circular economy, biodegradability, recyclability – these are just some of the terms being used when talking about sustainability. With climate change being the biggest challenge of our time, switching to more sustainable alternatives undoubtedly has to become integral to every aspect of society and business. For manufacturers, this means scrutinizing materials, products, and technologies with regards to sustainability – and rightfully so! Let’s take a look at what potential Additive Manufacturing (AM) holds in this context!

Sustainability in Additive Manufacturing

Additive Manufacturing is often perceived as sustainable; it is also widely believed that shifting to AM from traditional manufacturing is already a step towards more sustainability. However, this is not always accurate, but AM indeed does provide opportunities for more sustainable manufacturing.

Let’s start with the fundamental characteristics of AM – objects are created by adding material layer by layer, only applying material where it is needed; in contrast to subtractive manufacturing where material is being removed. This logic results in a lower material waste rate compared to traditional manufacturing with its oftentimes higher waste percentage as spill-over cannot be avoided to achieve the desired end result. However, also with AM, it sometimes occurs that there is surplus material – which most of the time can be recycled and used as feedstock for subsequent manufacturing processes.

Another aspect that makes AM attractive as a sustainable option is its unique freedom of design: by optimizing the design process of an additively manufactured component more efficient parts can be produced. Components can be made lighter and hollower within this optimized design process without sacrificing performance. Another benefit that accrues from an optimized design and lighter parts is that less material is used – when e.g., integrating lattice structures in the part.

Flashforward to, when the parts are used in end products like, for example, cars or airplanes, the lighter elements reduce the total weight and therefore the amount of CO2 which is emitted – a true win for companies measuring and managing their carbon footprint.

Within the many different Additive Manufacturing materials, there are already quite a few recycled or biobased ones, especially for Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) and Powder Bed Fusion (PBF). For example, our portfolio currently carries more sustainable materials with Ultrafuse® PLA, Ultrafuse® rPET, and the polymer powder Ultrasint® PA11.

Looking at AM from another angle, it also offers a sustainable alternative with regard to inventory. As you can easily print on demand and on-site, there is no need anymore for a physical inventory – a digital one with 3D models does the job without requiring warehouses. A digital inventory also comes in handy for spare parts that may have to be provided years after the actual product was manufactured and sold. If a spare part is needed, it can be printed and does not have to be stored in a warehouse, where it maybe never gets used and then thrown away.

As shown, AM offers several parameters to achieve more sustainable production. Interested in finding out more about what we at Forward AM do to drive sustainability forward? Head over here. Stay tuned for more articles about sustainability in the future! If you want to know more about how 3D printing can make a difference in your company, do not hesitate to contact us!

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